Crimewave (1985) Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, & Sam Raimi Directed by Sam Raimi
A slapstick crime-comedy written by the Coens and directed Sam Raimi sounds like a perfect movie. This was before an era where these names were associated with the sorts of film perfection we talk about now. However, Crimewave is an extremely disappointing picture that has hints of later brilliance. It’s most definitely a Coen Brothers story with Raimi’s style overlaid, which isn’t a combination that works out as good as it sounds. Raimi opts to go for a Tex Avery angle with characters existing in a cartoonish world, yet there are some terrifying and dark aspects in the mix.
Spies Like Us (1985) Written by Dan Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel Directed by John Landis
John Landis is a filmmaker that helped shape American wide-release movies for decades that followed the 1980s. His own career hasn’t gone in a direction that matches, but his influence has resonated. He directed Animal House & The Blues Brothers, starting the transition of former Saturday Night Live cast members to movies. Landis helmed Trading Places and Coming to America, which set Eddie Murphy into a stellar trajectory. Beyond films, Landis directed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Black or White” music videos, which have a hallowed place in the pop culture Hall of Fame. Most of his work, though, falls into the “okay” or “terrible” categories with Spies Like Us being one of those.
The Breakfast Club (1985) Written & Directed by John Hughes
No name is associated more with teen movies of the 1980s than John Hughes. The writer-director had quite an impressive record: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Outside of teen films, he penned and/or directed all the National Lampoon’s Vacation films, Uncle Buck, Home Alone, and the stellar comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Hughes found ways to make comedies that appealed to broad audiences yet were smart with pathos. He also found ways to inject stylistics flourishes playing with the reality of his worlds, it never felt out of place but blended perfectly with the more realistic tones. The Breakfast Club is considered by many of his fans to be the quintessential Hughes teen movie.
The Stuff (1985) Written & Directed by Larry Cohen
Paranoia has been a chief component of modern life since the Cold War. In the 1950s, Americans were told to beware of “Reds” in their midst while the Senate conducted a witch hunt against citizens. This inspired the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which took its novel roots and reimagined them as a commentary on the Red Scare tearing through the country. Ever since, the concept of the masses being overtaken by an insidious enemy has seemed enticing for many directors and writers. You often have one or two characters who are on to the ruse but seem helpless against the enemy’s scope and scale. This was the type of story that inspired independent filmmaker Larry Cohen to make his satire on the modern corporate food industry.
Big Man on Mulberry Street (Season 3, Episode 6) Original airdate: November 18, 1986 Written by Karen Hall Directed by Christian I. Nyby II & Stanley Donen
This episode of Moonlighting hits on two aspects of the series at once, the metafictional flights of fancy and the simmer sexual tension between David and Maddie. David once again shows his ass, coming to a meeting with a client hungover. Maddie explodes as expected, but when she comes to David’s office to chew him out, but finds her partner forlorn. A close friend has died, and upon further scrutiny, Maddie learns it is David’s ex-brother-in-law. Maddie becomes obsessed with finding out more about his ex-wife and what led to their break-up. Bruce Willis has a wonderfully dramatic scene where we get to see a lot of David’s vulnerabilities. The icing on this particular cake is a dream/dance sequence of Maddie’s set to a song by Billy Joel and choreographed by the legend Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain). The scene was unlike anything seen on television at the time, production quality, and artistry that had to stun audiences at the time.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Written by Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, & Michael Varhol Directed by Tim Burton
Pee-Wee Herman was a 1980s phenomenon that aggressively embedded itself in pop culture and then fizzled out fast in the latter part of the decade. He was the creation of comedian/actor Paul Reubens who was a member of the Los Angeles-based improv troupe The Groundlings. Reubens became close friends with fellow Groundling Phil Hartman, and the two of them developed the persona of Pee-Wee. The origins of the character were slow, with components coming together starting in the late 1970s. Pee-Wee started as a character who was attempting to be a stand-up comedian but couldn’t remember jokes and engaged in antagonistic banter with the audience. The breakout occurred when Reubens was booked on The Dating Game to play Pee-Wee as a sort of troll bachelor in the competition.
Moonlighting is a show that doesn’t often enter the modern discourse on television, but I’m here to argue that it is a remarkable television achievement that opened up the door for other hour dramas to be comedies and to experiment with their format. Moonlighting allowed flights of fantasy to take over the show and engaged continuously in Fourth Wall-breaking and meta-conversation about being a television show.